page loader

The Israelis are once again tearing the Middle East apart…….

Published in the Canberra Times 9th August, 2006.

The terrible Israeli raids in southern Lebanon designed to crush Hezbollah will not achieve this aim. Experience should have taught the Israelis that the use of overwhelming force against its neighbours will always generate an equal and opposite reaction. But Israel is locked into a pattern of behaviour which shapes and dictates the reaction of its enemies of which there are an increasing number. Israel has learnt nothing, it believes compassion and negotiation are a sign of weakness.

There is no incentive for Israel to behave in any other way. The US supplies military equipment and moral support. Poor simple George Bush has divided the world into those fighting terrorism and those supporting and promoting terrorism; a return to the Cold War mentality. America seems to have difficulty defining itself unless faced with a hostile ‘ism’. What Bush and his administration seem to have overlooked is that Hezbollah is not a new phenomena it traces its origins back to the creation of the state of Israel.

Israel was created out of collective Allied guilt and compassion at the end of WW2, although the idea of a Jewish state dates back to guarantees given to Jewish leader Chaim Weizman under the British Balfour Declaration in 1917. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Britain was mandated by The League of Nations to administer Palestine and allowed Jewish settlers. Clashes occurred between settlers and Arab residents who had little say in these arrangements. The Arab bottom line was that they would accept settlers within an Arab state, the settlers wanted a separate state. The UN proclaimed the state of Israel in 1948 and the Arab League promptly invaded. Israel survived and added a little more territory.

Since that time a constant state of tension has existed between Israel, neighbouring Arab states and their allies and resident and displaced Palestinians. There have been a number of wars, guerrilla raids and acts of terrorism. Nothing has been achieved. The Palestinians await their own state and Israel craves security whilst conducting itself in such a manner as to make this difficult, if not impossible, for the foreseeable future. Jewish settlements in occupied territory and bunker busting bombs on Lebanese apartment blocks are part of the angry and emotional fabric which constitutes Israel today.

In the meantime George Bush, in a sleight of hand, has conscripted Israel, into fighting his war on terror. He let them off the leash, they have gone into a frenzy and he is not prepared to bring them to heel.Blocking the UN Security Council from seeking a ceasefire is not good foreign policy and may well come back to haunt the US. By doing this they have signaled they condone state sponsored terrorism. And John Howard cheers from behind; a foreign policy of craven servility. As a medium ranking power outside of the region and with nationals from both sides of the conflict living in Australia, Howard’s foreign policy with respect to the Middle East should be even handed. Howard should temper the Bush rhetoric on terrorism with knowledge of the history of the conflict between Israel and the Arab world.

Far from securing its borders Israel has bred another generation of Islamic radicals. But we will not have to wait a generation to experience the immediate mobilization of Arab anger and frustration. The ranks of Hezbollah, Hamas, JI or any of the other radical Islamic organizations will be swollen with new recruits. What Israel has done with US, British and Australian backing is beyond the pale. It is by any yardstick horrific. It is over the top. One might be forgiven for thinking that collectively the state of Israel has a death wish, that deep down it is gravely pessimistic about its legitimacy. Otherwise why push everyone so hard and so far?

I have been involved in observing and analyzing events in the Middle East since 1972. The fundamentals of the Arab/Israeli conflict have not changed. What has changed is the nature of the Arab opposition to Israel, its backers and supporters. It was finally acknowledged, after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, that Israel with US (and British) backing had the capacity to destroy most states in the Middle East. That recognition sent opposition underground away from state structures. So that, for instance, powerful elements in Saudi Arabia have been prepared to secretly channel funds to groups and organisations in order to avoid US pressure that would have been deployed had states been the recipients. Many powerful individuals and institutions in Saudi Arabia have an ambivalent attitude towards the US as the principle backer of Israel. On the one hand they want to be beneficiaries of the US economy and on the other they have no respect for the support the US has given Israel at the expense of Arab states and organisations.Saudi Arabia was not thrilled to discover that the Bell Telephone organization, which was contracted to install a new telephone network in Saudi Arabia in the late 1970’s, had, at the insistence of the CIA, set up a system where calls could be tapped on the basis of key words.

It is from this ambivalent background that Osama bin Laden evolved, was nurtured and eventually burst onto the world stage with the attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. A singular act of gutlessness since his own neck was never on the block, but that is the nature of the new dispensation. Osama might be counted amongst the ranks of WW1 generals who never went into the firing line and never witnessed at first hand the carnage they caused.
But if Arabs feel aggrieved then Israel does with spades. The effect of the Holocausthas never been factored into the seemingly irrational over-reaction of Israel to the threats that it is faced with. The Holocaust hang up, has been a significant guilt trip for successive US administrations and a defining framework for all Israeli policy making with the on going message that Jews are not weak, they will never again be pushed around. Within that framework Middle East negotiations are difficult.

Collectively Jews do not want to be perceived as weak, particularly so in Israel. Who is going to be brave enough to say that the Holocaust should no longer be a defining feature of Israel; that if Israel is going to be able to negotiate its future with its neighbours it has to be able to shed the mantle of victim?And what about the US who on the one hand wants a stable and compliant Middle East in order to ensure oil supplies and on the other conducts a foreign policy which is very disruptive to that aim. By providing unconditional support to an emotionally and psychologically damaged Israel, who is as much at war with its past as it is with its future, the US risks also becoming a victim of that past.
Is the Holocaust of WW2 going to be allowed to establish the preconditions for WW3 ?The people of Israel have a right to exist within secure borders, free from the molestation of neighbours. Palestians, have the same right but so far that has been denied by Israel, the US and a few allies including Australia.

Bruce Haigh is a retired diplomat who has worked on the Middle East including postings to Saudi Arabia which included the Gulf States, the Yemen and Iran. He also had several postings to Pakistan which included Afghanistan. He is an author and political commentator who farms in Mudgee.